Imagine: the Antebellum era. Someplace in the Deep South. Mississippi. Alabama. Georgia. A slave owner calls his favorite property into the house to discuss an important political and philosophical issue...
"Come in, Jacob," the stately gentlemen says. He smiles as his property nods and enters the parlor.
Jacob removes his straw hat. "Thankee, Massah Johnson. I'se mighty grateful fuh da chanct to discuss my propertyhood wit' you."
"That's fine, Jacob. Take a chair."
Jacob plants himself on the edge of a fine, red-silk covered chair. Unconsciously, he twists the broad brim of this hat around and around through his callused hands.
Master Johnson eases into his own chair and sips from a tall glass of lemonade. He does not offer any of the beverage to his property.
"Now, Jacob. I have heard rather disturbing rumors that you object to your status as duly and legally registered property. I must say, I am most saddened that you are so ignorant of what is proper and good, especially after so many years of working here for me."
"Yassuh, Massah Johnson. It's jist...it's jist I don' know why y'all have da right to buy an' sell me an' my chil'ens like so many bales o' cotton. Ain't I a hooman, too? We's pretty much da same. Jist diff'rent skin colors'all." Jacob holds out his dark brown arm for inspection.
Master Johnson frowns. "Oh, Jacob." He shakes his head. "I can see your confusion." Master Johnson inhales a deep breath. "You see, throughout history, the white race has proven its superiority." He waves a hand around his elegant mansion. "Look about you. Have you ever seen a colored create anything so magnificent and exquisite as this?"
Jacob wrinkles his brow. "Nassuh. Not 'xactly. Leest, no darkie ever own'd sech a wondrous house as dis." He shakes his head. "But I rek'llect rightly, twas ol' Obidiah an' his boys wot built da place. So..."
Master Johnson waves the objection aside. "Yes, yes. Obidiah managed well enough...but only under white supervision and direction. My daddy kept an eagle eye on those carpenters. Told them what to do and how to do it."
A corner of Jacob's mouth twists. "But, Massuh Johnson, mebbe ol' Obidiah coulda done it hisself if --"
"Jacob...," Master Johnson says, raising a brow.
Master Johnson leans forward and rests his arms upon his knees. "Whites are just naturally superior. It's a fact of history. Just because white trash sometimes lays with a colored and produces a bastard child is of no import." He taps his temple. "It's the mind of the white man that raises him above his property. Why, a white treats his mule or his dog well if he is wise -- no one should abuse his own property." Master Johnson laughs and slaps his legs. "Beat a slave or an ox too much and you're really only hurting yourself!" He wags an index finger. "Not that a white man doesn't have the right, mind you, to do whatever he wishes -- wise or foolish -- with his property. He does. That is a fact of life you must never forget." Master Johnson setttles back and tugs at the bottom of his waistcoat.
"Yassuh. But..." Jacob winces as though the thought pains him to speak. "A mule or a pup, he don' talk wit you, do he?"
"Oh, Jacob. I talk to my dogs all the time! Have to give them orders, don't I? And don't they bark or yip or whimper in response? Yes, it's a different language, but they do the best they can. You niggrahs," he says, "are cleverer than most. I'll grant you that. But you're lazy and shiftless. Without a firm white hand," he says, slowly drawing his fingers into a fist, "you'd be no better than a sheep or cow wandering aimlessly and hopelessly lost through the fields."
"But, Massuh Johnson, I works hard. I feel pride in wot I do."
"Yes," Master Johnson says. "You're a very good smith, Jacob."
"Yassuh. Thankee, suh. But coloreds up No'th own der own shops and --"
Master Johnson snaps forward. "We'll have none of that kind of talk around here," he barks. "What you're saying just proves my point." He ticks the points off on his fingertips. "We whites direct you coloreds in what to make and how to work. We collect the products you produce. We sell those goods and services and use that income to provide you with adequate food, shelter, even doctoring...if you really need it and aren't simply malingering to avoid honest work. We know your race cannot decide for itself how best to live. We relieve you of that thankless burden. Why," he says, waving an arm. "Do you think it's easy being your master? I work longer than you do. Think of all the worries, all the pressures, all the concerns that trouble me day in and day out. It's not a trifle managing such a large plantation as the Oaks. Everyone comes to me looking for advice. Everyone comes to me when they need this or that for their shack. Everyone comes to me when they need seeds for their garden patch or cloth for a new pair of britches or milk for a new baby. I deserve to benefit from my labors and my responsibilities. Why, you coloreds have nothing to worry about! No responsibilities, no decisions, no pressures. Just do as you're told and your life is complete."
"It's jist not right," Jacob says, thinning his lips. "I'se deserves more. My Mary deserves more. We wants to buy our freedom someday."
Master Johnson leaps to his feet. Cautiously, slowly, Jacob imitates him.
"How dare you come into my home, accept my hospitality, and tell me that -- You ungrateful whelp! I should whip you where you stand. Apparently, I've been lax in teaching you your proper place in our society. You abuse my good nature. You should be happy with your lot and damned grateful I don't sell the lot of you South."
Jacob lifts his chin. Though his voice quavers ever so slightly, he locks his gaze with Master Johnson's. "Y'all treat me an' mine like we'se nothin'...nothin' but property. You're wrong to own a hoomin bein'. Wrong. Someday ya'll have to pay da price fer --"
Rushing forward, Master Johnson cuffs Jacob, knocking him to the floor. "Get out! Get out, you black bastard! You insolent --"
Jacob pushes himself up from the floor. "Don' matta wot you says. I'se a person. I'se deserves to be free. It's jist right."
"Get out!" Kicking his property, Master Johnson hustles his slave out the door and into the dirt. "The overseer will be visiting you soon. Go prepare yourself for a whipping such as you've never had."
Silently, Jacob dusts himself off, picks up his crushed hat, and limps towards his shack.
"Damned niggrahs," Master Johnson says as he storms into his home. "Try to carry on a polite conversation with a slave, and they repay you with unbridled hostility..."
Sadly, a vast majority of people accept and are working overtime to implement Master Johnson's position.
Too many people see nothing wrong with advocating the involuntary servitude of conscription, of taxation, of prior restraint, of rules and regulations and laws dictating every aspect of life from the simple to the profound. Indeed, I have been told directly that such practices are "good for us" and make us "better people." That we can "learn skills" from involuntary servitude, i.e., from slavery.
They tell me that our nation is the equivalent of a family. That the "chores" the government demands of us builds our character. That we "owe" it to those who have "provided" us with so much. That it is our "responsibility" -- a responsibility that exists even in the absence of choice -- to do what the State tells us to do. That to be forced into involuntary servitude is to be responsible. That it is "wrong" to want to "relax" or to fight against the laws constraining our peaceful behavior. That people should be forced to take care of the elderly. That we could perhaps get college credits as a reward for our slavery, if we're drafted. That we can gain courage, become competent, learn tenacity, gain integrity, and achieve glory in our "service" to others.
I have been told that taxes provide "everything" to us citizens and thus are just. That education, health care, nursing care must be given to everyone. That the State is our "servant"...even though it dictates to us and forces us to obey at the point of a gun. That if we object to our orders, it is right and proper for the State to punish us in order to teach us the error of our ways. That if something is the law, it is therefore "right" because "we" voted for it. That we should be "thankful" for what is truly ours by right, that is, our due, what is automatically owed us, that is, freedom. That we should be grateful to the State that we still enjoy a crumb of liberty in the same way we would be grateful to a robber who did not take all we own but left us a penny or two.
I have been told that if I do not support taxes and involuntary servitude that I do not "care" for other people. That those who want to make their own decisions and follow their own minds are "lazy" and are not "true" Americans. That if we don't like being "inconvenienced" by laws we disagree with that we should leave the country and live elsewhere. That to believe in a government limited solely to protecting our rights and defending us from our enemies, foreign and domestic, is to be for "anarchy."
I have been asked in what "document" I found my belief that I have the right to be free, my assertion that liberty is not a privilege but every individual's birthright...
Freedom through slavery.
This unspoken mantra echoes throughout every crevice of our society.
When I decide that such advocacy of slavery and legalized theft cannot be a simple error of knowledge but a deep evasion; when I respond strongly and negatively to such dangerous statements, I am accused of being "hostile." I am told that I should remain calm and polite...to the person who believes he owns part of my life, owns part of my property, who announces that I should live my life for him and for strangers.
Yes. This slave does get hostile when his life, his values, his freedom are threatened.
Yes. This slave does get incensed, when his patience gives way to annoyance and then slides into anger...justified anger.
Yes. This slave refuses to be polite to those who insist it is their right to own him and his life; who insist that his enslavement is for his own good; or worse, that his involuntary servitude is proper because others benefit from his slavery.
Yes. This slave will never apologize for his outrage at those who seek to whip him into submission and claim him as their property.
Yes. This slave is completely and unutterably opposed to his own involuntary servitude in any and all of its twisted and debased forms and disguises and variations. His life belongs solely to him. His life may not be used without his consent to achieve any goal of any other person, no matter how laudable that goal might be in the abstract. No end ever justifies immoral means.
Yes. This slave believes it is demeaning when one group of people decides how this individual shall live his life and substitutes its judgments for his own.
Yes. This slave is fed up with the sanctimonious, the self-righteous, the would-be masters who expect their slaves to maintain a facade of civilized behavior when discussing the most destructive, the most pernicious, anti-civilization, anti-freedom, anti-human idea that exists: that his enslavement is a good thing.
Yes. This slave will fight back.
Deal with it.